Ban-the-box measure barely passes State House. Equal-pay bill awaits Senate vote
State Director Patrick Connor reports from Olympia on the small-business agenda for the legislative week ending February 16
As of this report, the Legislature is technically two-thirds of the way through its 60-day convocation. This past week marked the procedural mid-way point as each chamber scrambled to pass bills before the February 14, 5 p.m. house-of-origin deadline.
Unless deemed “necessary to implement the budget” (NTIB), bills failing to pass the chamber in which they were introduced are now dead. With the supplemental budget set to be released February 19, it is not known which bills are officially NTIB.
The February 14 cut-off culled the number of bills NFIB is actively following down to 30, of the 73 NFIB had been watching. Many of those are scheduled for hearing in advance of the February 23 policy committee cutoff.
Senate Bill 6203, the carbon tax bill, was heard in the Senate Ways & Means Committee this week. It continues to be a work in progress with new drafts being released. More and more businesses and trade groups have come out in favor of the bill thanks to a number of carve-outs and preferences included in the legislation, and the ever-present threat of a more damaging initiative if the bill stalls. NFIB opposes the bill.
Patient and consumer groups, including NFIB, won Senate approval of a pair of favorable bills before February 14’s deadline, but both face a rocky future in the House Health Care & Wellness Committee. The House also passed a duo of consumer-friendly bills, which should have an easier time passing the Senate Health & Long Term Care Committee.
- Senate Bill 6147, prescription medication continuity of care, received a surprisingly strong Senate vote of 38-9. The bill would limit insurers ability to increase costs mid-plan-year for medications patients are already taking, unless an equivalent generic or biologic comes on the market. NFIB and other business groups, along with numerous patient groups, support the bill.
- Senate Bill 6157, waiving prior authorization for certain limited benefits in a health plan, also received a strong vote, passing the Senate 42-4. Basically, the bill would allow patients to access six visits to a chiropractor; massage, speech, occupational, or certain other therapists; and East Asian medicine practitioners without repeat prior authorization when their health plan allows a limited number of annual visits to these providers. Many health plans limit these treatments to 10 or 12 per year. NFIB supports the legislation.
- House Bill 2296 also passed the House unanimously. This bill would ban so-called “gag rules” in contracts between insurers and/or pharmacy benefit managers and pharmacies that prevent pharmacists from telling customers when a prescription medication is cheaper paying cash than using insurance. NFIB supports the bill.
- The House unanimously approved House Bill 2408, which seeks to avoid so-called “bare counties,” where no health plans are offered in the individual market in that county. The bill would require an insurer offering plans to school districts in an otherwise bare county to serve as a backstop, allowing individuals and families to purchase health coverage from that insurer. NFIB supports the bill.
- Interestingly, neither health carrier reinsurance bill passed before the cutoff. While technically dead, it is possible, if not likely, that a reinsurance program will be included in either the Senate or House budget proposal. NFIB opposes this $200 million tax on health insurance policyholders.
The House versions of both ‘ban the box’ and equal pay will be the vehicles to enact this legislation.
- House Bill 1298, ban the box, passed the House 52-46. The Senate Labor Committee has already scheduled executive action, as well as a cursory public hearing, telegraphing that the majority Democrats intend to approve the bill. NFIB opposes the bill.
- House Bill 1506, the equal pay bill, has been eligible for a vote on the Senate floor for some time. Sen. Jim Honeyford will sponsor a floor amendment to address NFIB’s concern about the double jeopardy penalty process in the bill that could expose a small business to a lawsuit and an L&I investigation (and citation) simultaneously. NFIB supports the Honeyford amendment but must oppose the bill without it.
- On a positive note, the Senate unanimously approved an NFIB bill, SB 6393, 47-0. Technically, this is L&I-requested legislation that would allow the department to use separate interest-earning calculations for the State Fund and self-insured employers’ pension discount rate. NFIB has been suggesting the department take this approach for the past few years, so we support this legislation to give L&I statutory authority to do so.
Tax & Fiscal
The Senate Democrats will release their supplemental operating budget plan February 19. Meanwhile, the House Finance Committee continues to hear various tax-related bills, including a rural manufacturing B&O tax cut and capital gains tax proposal heard February 16. As usual, budget and tax issues will be among the last items on the year’s legislative agenda.
House Bill 2350, by Rep. Vicki Kraft, passed the House this week, 98-0. The bill will modestly increase the thresholds at which businesses must file and pay B&O taxes. NFIB supports the bill.
Small Business Day
Did you miss Small Business Day 2018? Well, fear not. You can catch video highlights of our guest speakers here. It’s not as good as joining us in person for (one of) the most important day(s) on the legislative calendar, but it’s the next best thing … along with contacting lawmakers in response to our action alerts during the session. Please feel free to share the link on your own social media accounts.
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[Tile photo courtesy of Washington State Legislative Support Services]